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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Taking Mistakes to a New Level

Okay. I've posted before about the need to proofread (and not just spell check) your screenplays. But the script I was reading this morning took the mistakes to a new level.

In addition to a plethora of typos that weren't caught by spell check (e.g. "waive" for "wave"), and other no-nos, such as stating that this script was draft number 30-something, I saw an error I never thought I'd see in a script. The writer misspelled his own name!

Now you're probably sitting there wondering how I know it was misspelled, and not just an odd spelling, right? Well, he spelled his name one way in the footer to every page (also a no-no), and a different way on the title page of the script! They can't both be right!

If you've written over 30 drafts of a script, don't you think you should care enough about it to at least check the spelling of your own name? Hell, even if you've only written one draft you should feel that way! Ugh.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Even Fun Guys Get Depressed Sometimes

It just lasts for a much shorter period of time, for us.

This morning, triggered by nothing major (or nothing I feel like talking about) I was feeling kind of depressed (don't worry Mom and Dad, if you read this -- nothing major). In general terms (though not the triggering device here), I've found that the thing in life that gives me the most agita is money. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. Which sucks to a particularly intense degree, since I think money is largely evil. But more on that some other time.

Thus, this morning, I considered chucking it all. The writing, I mean. I'm sick and tired of being poor, and though I believe in my writing abilities, I also know that I can work my ass off, and still not see anything for it down the road, in terms of my screenwriting. And I ain't getting any younger. I'd like to have a future, and my life isn't that much different than it was 10 or more years ago.

I thought about just stopping writing, and getting myself a regular job career. It would certainly make many aspects of my life a hell of a lot easier. Would I be as happy (in general)? Who knows. Of course, I also have no idea what kind of "career" I'm qualified for at this point. But that's a separate issue.

You often hear people saying that if you can do any other job, you should. I'm not someone who writes because of a burning desire to do so. I don't have big statements to make, or major works of art I feel the need to impart to the world. As I believe I've said before (and if not, I'm saying it now), I don't think of myself as an artist; I consider myself a craftsman. I write because I have a facility for it. I write because I always have.

Now, I'll say that my "depression" was over in about an hour, more or less. I was feeling happy again, perhaps despite myself. But at the same time, though my emotions had reverted to their typical form, my intellect held onto stuff a bit. I'm not giving up writing right now, and do honestly believe I can write well enough to become a professional screenwriter. But I must admit to having my doubts about whether that will matter. I'm good, but not great. And you kind of need to be great to make it in Hollywood, don't you? Who the hell knows? Not me.

Regardless, I'll keep on writing for now, hopefully constantly improving with each successive script, or pass at a prior script. I also know that my doubts are not unique to me, and that we all have such doubts from time to time. But I still need to find some way to continue while simultaneously improving my financial situation. I'd look at full-time work (instead of freelancing), but I honestly don't know a job that I could do well and would also not hate going into work each morning. I occasionally come across a job posting that appeals to me, and I apply, but not the type of thing that I can truly hit the job hunt heavily and wholeheartedly. I'd love something that utilizes my screenplay expertise, but most development type jobs aren't right for me, for one reason or another (again not something worth going into in detail at the moment).

There's always temp work and the like, and/or part time stuff. I'm open to that too. I always wanted to tend bar, but LA isn't the bar-culture town that NYC was, so not sure if it is worth it here. But at least for the immediate term, I think what I need is some kind of regular job, that has regular hours (no overtime, so I can keep writing), pays decently (though I don't need a lot), and is more a job and less a career path. Until I can find the career-type job that appeals to me and for which I'm actually qualified.

Whatever. No worries -- I'm feeling happy again, and I'll figure it all out. I always do (more or less). But I am, of course, open to suggestions!

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

This is Not a Blog Post

I just wanted to chime in and let y'all know I'm not neglecting the blog, or at least not purposely. Just got a lot of stuff going on right now, and no posts burning to get written. But I promise to return to posting soon, as well as update the blog sidebar, etc.

Thanks for coming back and for sticking around. I honestly appreciate it!


Friday, February 17, 2006

Movies That Rock

I can't recall, but I may have mentioned once before that movies were not my first love. In fact, I have always been more of a music fan, and I'd say that is my #1 passion. But after I graduated from college, and started to look for work in the music biz (I never had the patience to learn how to play an instrument, and though I'm a pretty good singer, I'm not good enough to be a pro), I realized that music was much too scummy of an industry for me. Not like movies are squeaky clean, but in comparison to the music biz, film is lily white.

Still, since I work in film, but maintain my deep love of music, I figured I'd throw out a little post about some of the best (and worst) music-themed movies, in my not so humble opinion. I'm not talking about musicals (though I should throw my praise out, on that front, for Cabaret, as one of the greatest, most inventive of the lot). I'm talking music biopics, docs and/or concert docs, films about fictional bands, and the like.

I guess a good place to start will be biopics. This year's Walk the Line was pretty good, and got some good acclaim, but I think one of the reasons it didn't do better at the box office was its similarities to Ray just a year earlier. There is no question that the two films had a number of likenesses in plot and theme.

Both, however, pale in comparison to yet another highly acclaimed music biopic, and one that I think is one of the best ever: Clint Eastwood's directing triumph, Bird (written by Joel oiliness). In it, Forest Whitaker stars as great jazz saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker. One of my favorite little "footnote to life" type scenes, that supposedly is true, was a time when Bird was down on his luck, and ready to take any gig that came his way. A friend dragged him out to Brooklyn, and he played as part of a wedding band at a Chasidic wedding! I always loved that scene, because I think to myself, those people at that wedding probably have no idea, to this day, who it was that played at their wedding!

Another great music biopic is The Doors (Directed by Oliver Stone, and written by Randall Jahnson and Stone). In my mind, Stone's greatest skill as a filmmaker is his ability to manipulate his audience. I find that when I watch most of his films, I'm buying whatever he's selling. I may not feel the same an hour after I leave the theater, but while I'm in there I'm hooked 100%. With The Doors, I didn't change my mind afterwards either, and I still love that movie. Val Kilmer was, of course, awesome in the role of Jim Morrison. And the trip scene in the desert is one of the three best on film that I can think of (the other two being those from Hair and Beavis and Butthead Do America).

Flawed, but still good, and a different sort of biopic, is Sid and Nancy (Dir. by Alex Cox, written by Cox and Abbe Wool), about the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious, and his doomed and tragic relationship with Nancy Spungen. Gary Oldman gives a powerful performance as the punk icon, and though the story isn't totally absorbing, it wisely focuses on one aspect of Sid's life, instead of trying to capture everything -- the flaw of less skillful biopic screenplays.

Now, while we're on punk, I have to mention a movie that most of you probably have never seen. But I loved it. Mind you, I saw it when I was in high school, based solely on the ad in the newspaper, and have never seen it since. But I did buy the soundtrack, and still love it. It starred Michael Hutchence (R.I.P.) of INXS fame, and was called Dogs in Space (written and directed by Richard Lowenstein -- I have never seen, but love the title of another of his films, He Died With a Felafel in his Hand). The film was set in the punk rock scene in Australia, circa 1979, and was a solid film, as I recall. Great punk soundtrack.

Then there are a few more solid films about fictional bands. I'm a big fan of Eddie and the Cruisers, as those of you who read my meme know already. But the sequel, Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! was an absolutely horrendous embarrassment. If you're a fan of Chinatown, think about the butchering job that The Two Jakes did to that original, and you'll have a clue what this sequel was like. Alan Parker's The Commitments (and I'm giving him possessory credit because he is a monster in the music film world, due to this and The Wall), written by Dick Clement & Ian Le Frenais and Roddy Doyle, on Doyle's book, is another unique and solid film about a fictional band. The soundtrack, sung by the actors who were culled largely from Irish bar bands, is excellent, and the story has a fresh feel to it, unlike so many other music themed films. Back on a theme, I bought that soundtrack, but also one or two albums of individual actors' bands.

While I'm on fictional band films, I must mention what I consider the absolute worst music themed film ever made (at least among those I've seen). I doubt I'll get much argument from anyone whose seen it (at least I hope that's the case). Satisfaction was God awful. Terrible acting. Cheesy, predictable, hackneyed plot. And most importantly: really, really bad music.

Another good one that I suspect many of you have not seen is from 1961. Too Late Blues (written by Richard Carr and John Cassavetes, dir. by Cassavetes) starred Bobby Darin, looked beautiful, and though melodramatic at times, caught some great moments of a musician caught between his band and the beautiful girl (singer) he loves. So I guess this was a theme long before people started blaming Yoko for breaking up the Beatles.

Speaking of which. I have never seen the (made for TV, I think) film version of The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (written by Eric Idle, directed by Idle and Gary Weis), but the music from the film is a hilarious send up/mockery of the Fab Four. Of course, the mockumentary style (and the woman coming between band members) also brings to mind the granddaddy of mockumentaries: This is Spinal Tap (dir. by Rob Reiner, written by (or improvised by) Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Reiner). I got nothing great to say about this film -- it truly speaks for itself. The film is hilarious, eminently quotable, timeless, and influential. Do yourself a favor. If by some bizarre chance, you've never seen this movie, go get it now, put it in, and turn the volume up... to 11!

Okay. Now from the mockumentaries to the ROCKumentaries. A few good ones here, and they are all quite different. I should say up front that there are actually a plethora of excellent music docs, and this is by no means an exhaustive listing of the greats. It's just a few of my personal faves.

Gimme Shelter was a primo example of a documentarian being in the right place (which in this case was actually the "wrong" place), and then making the most of it. The Maysles brothers (at least I think they are brothers, right?) decided to film the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in California. The concert was billed as a sort of West Coast response to Woodstock. Unfortunately, the whole thing was haphazardly planned, at the last minute, and the Hell's Angels were hired to run security. This of course led to a horrific nightmare, in which at least one concert goer was killed.

But the Maysles did a wonderful thing to follow up their presence at a historic event. They brought another camera into the editing room and filmed Mick (and I believe Keith) watching the footage for the very first time. Catching their raw reactions to the horror is what truly made this film, in my opinion.

Another example of being in the right place at the right time was Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. In this film, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were there to witness the breakdowns and subsequent group therapy that Metallica went through while attempting to record their album St. Anger. While it at times feels contrived or staged, it never veers as far in this direction as did Madonna: Truth or Dare. It also goes a bit too long. But it is still an excellent rockumentary, even if you're not a fan of the band.

I've only seen a small portion of Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz, but it is widely acclaimed as one of the best concert docs ever filmed, so I must mention it. And the portions I saw were, at the least, beautifully shot and performed. One of my favorite concert films, however, because it actually has a concept and plan to it, is Jonathan Demme and Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense. This is about to be a minor spoiler, so if you don't want to find out, skip the next paragraph.

So, when I sat down to watch this film, I just expected a simple concert film. And therefore I didn't even catch on until I was a few songs in. But the band and set is slowly being assembled and built throughout the film, starting with just one musician and a boombox, then more musicians joining him, etc. The set is built as we watch, too. It was simply entertaining, and artful. The performances are among the best versions of these songs too ("Burning Down the House" in particular cooks). Unfortunately, on the soundtrack album (at least on the tape -- not sure if the CD has the same sequence) the songs are out of sequence from the film, so you lose some of the effect. But it still works great.

I also want to mention two final docs that were great at profiling specific musical "scenes." Penelope Spheeris made The Decline of Western Civilization in 1981, and it profiled the hardcore punk scene in Los Angeles. It was not just the place/time confluence again. It was also the personalities and performances. She followed it up with two more parts, with Part II focusing on music, and Part III returning to examine the aging punk scene. I have not seen Part III, and I can't quite remember whether I liked Part II or not. But the first part is still an excellent testament.

After making Hype! about the Seattle grunge scene (I didn't see this movie), Doug Pray followed it up with Scratch. The film investigated the history and current status of scratch DJing. Before I saw the film, I'd never heard of such musicians as DJ Q-Bert or DJ Z-Trip, and Mix Master Mike was little more than a name I vaguely associated with the Beastie Boys. After watching, however, I became an instant fan, and downloaded a ton of music from these artists. Amazing stuff. It isn't just rhythmic backgrounds; these guys make real music by scratching records.

One of the poorer music docs I've seen was Nico Icon, a 1995 doc about the supermodel who became a member of The Velvet Underground, then eventual junkie. The film's opening held such promise. We open on a glamorous vision of this woman, followed in smashing juxtaposition by her haggard junkie image. Clearly, the film poses the question, how did she get from point A to point B. Unfortunately, the film rambles and drags, and never digs deep enough to reach any answers, or even hints at them.

Lastly, three films that are music related, but only marginally. But I still want to include them in here. I've previously mentioned my love for Empire Records. So I shan't mention it again. ;-) But I will mention another great record store movie: High Fidelity. I loved the Nick Hornby novel on which this was based when I read it, and worried that moving it from London to Chicago would hurt the film. I was totally wrong. I guess any working class, depressed city works as well as any other! Tons of great performances in this film, and a good story too. Finally, I'll also throw Almost Famous into the mix. Cameron Crowe rocks, and this film is his most autobiographical (though I hear Elizabethtown was largely autobiographical as well). Though Almost Famous isn't 100% satisfying, I love the little window onto the time and place, and the shades of good and bad that various characters display.

Whew! A long post, eh? Go on, tell me which ones (good or bad) I missed!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

DVDoing it Better

A quick post here. Melanie at Words for Pictures has posted an open question:

Are there any specific DVD special features which were especially helpful to you in learning something new about screenwriting or film/television production?

Well, I watch a decent number of DVDs, and love the extra features. But I'm not sure how many of them have specifically taught me more about screenwriting. I always love watching extra deleted scenes (the DVD for This is Spinal Tap has long been a favorite of mine for having an hour or so of deleted scenes!). Sometimes these can help you learn more about what the writer had in mind.

I don't frequently watch a movie with the audio commentary, but I'd like to. It's just that I wouldn't do it the first time around, and there are so many new movies for me to watch that I don't usually end up rewatching one on my own (often with friends though, but they won't want the commentary). Plus, screenwriters are unfortunately rarely featured in such commentaries anyway. "Making of" featurettes often are interesting, but also tend to ignore writers. So in truth, I can't say I learn that much about writing from these features.

Still, I thought it was an interesting question, so figured I'd point y'all to it, and see if you had other interesting stuff to add.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

It's the Little Things That Matter

I often mention the importance of details in screenwriting. The little things add specificity to a script, making it seem more genuine, and less a fictional product of the writer's mind. So one of our jobs, as screenwriters, is to be attuned to the little details we come across, filing them away for use in the future.

We may not know exactly how they will come into future play. Perhaps they'll find their way into our screenplays unaltered, or we may choose to find the truthful humanity at the core of these moments and alter them appropriately.

A few minutes ago I witnessed one of these kind of images. It was an "only in LA" type moment, and I thought you might like to hear it, as an example of what I mean.

I was sitting outside my apartment building, smoking a nice cigar, and reading a script. I'd just finished talking to some of my friends back East (I always get a kick out of the way everyone in LA refers to it as "back" East, even if they never lived there, but that's a conversation for a different time), gloating, as is my duty, about how I was sitting in 80-something degree sunshine, wearing shorts and sandals, while they were buried under record snowfall. The truth is, I only do it because it makes me fell better about not being with my old friends, but it is still a fun activity. In actuality, though, I love those massive snowstorms back East, and have wonderful memories of a massive snowstorm from about 8 years ago. I happily recall walking down the middle of Broadway in broad daylight. And when I say the middle of Broadway, I mean the middle. Not a car on the road. A rarity in New York City. I even remember seeing the odd juxtaposition of a man cross-country skiing down the street!

But back to today. So I'm sitting there, enjoying the weather and the script (somewhat surprisingly). Now, as I'm sure you all know, LA is the focal point of American car culture. The fact that I oddly buck the trend and am automotively challenged (read carless) in this city does not mean that I'm unaware of the whole car thing that surrounds me. So this nice, hunter green Lexus coupe pulls up in front of my building. Not the most expensive car I see on a regular basis, and it was a few years old. But still a nice car nonetheless. And certainly a lot more expensive a vehicle than I could afford (the real reason I don't have a car here -- I lack the bread). So of course it attracts my attention a bit.

Now be aware that I don't live in a real fancy part of town. I mean, it's definitely nice enough, but not one of those ultra-toney parts of LA. So I look up for a minute at the Lexus parked by the curb, and who do you think gets out? No, not some famous movie star, nor suited lawyer/business type.

It was a neatly, but modestly dressed Asian man delivering food to one of my neighbors! When I lived in Manhattan, I saw lots of food being delivered; take-out food and NYC life are nearly synonymous. You can't walk down the streets of The City without spotting myriad delivery guys on old bicycles dodging cars and pedestrians. And the menus-under-the-apartment-door phenomenon is one of the more annoying aspects of city life. Here in LA, food delivery is also a big part of life, though perhaps not quite as prevalent. But when it does happen, you'll see the delivery people typically driving around in beat up old Toyotas, dented vans, or rusty pick-ups.

But here I was faced with something incongruous, and it put a real smile on my face. I made no judgments, and asked no serious questions (internally or verbally). I just enjoyed the odd sight, and filed it away. Perhaps sometime something like this might sneak its way into the background of a script I write. Or just the essence of this peculiar juxtaposition will come through in another way.

Pay attention to the peculiar things you see, or hear people say. Some people keep a file of such things. I haven't updated it in a while, but I have a file of "copped dialogue," and though I have yet to insert any of it into a script, I may go over it from time to time, and/or eventually pull some of it into a future screenplay. But if nothing else, it reminds me that no human is as simple as we typically conceive them to be when we first create our characters.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Seek and Ye Shall Find (I Hope)

One of the fun things about having a blog is checking your hit stats to see such things as how people got to your site, and the search criteria people used at various search engines.

In most cases, I like to think that the people who get to Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog via a keyword search end up finding the information they were looking for. For example, common searches that I hope are at least somewhat helpful are those for information on The Constant Gardener or Fanboys scripts, Enneagrams, and character names.

However, one very common search that brings people to my blog, that I'm pretty confident is not particularly helpful, is one for Sheila Hanahan Taylor and/or Practical Pictures. Why don't I think it is helpful? Because it lands people at this post, in which I discuss the apparent prevalence of vampire western scripts that have floated around Hollywood. In it, I mention a quote from Ms. Taylor, taken from this article, in which she basically said she'd be happy to never see another vampire western script again. The problem is, all I did was quote another article that probably comes up ahead of mine in these searches anyway. So they come to my site and probably get no new information.

Well, I am nothing if not accommodating, and I'd love for these people to be happy. So firstly, I'd like to include a link to Ms. Taylor's (or Ms. Hanahan's, as listed there) IMDB page (even though I'm certain that people will find that first too).

Beyond that, however, I'd love it if any of you have any relevant information about her, or her company. I understand she is an associate producer on Final Destination 3, which presumably accounts for the recent jump in such searches. But if any of you have other information, please post it in the comments below. Then, hopefully, the next time someone searches for her and comes to my blog, they won't be disappointed!

Thanks (on my behalf, and that of the searchers)!

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Grass Roots Fundraising/Filmmaking

My friend Linda pointed me towards this site today, and I think these guys have found a cute way to have fun and raise some awareness and money about their horror film, Dead Girls Club.

The company is called Mentor Street, and seems like a cool company, at least based on their mission statement:

Mentor Street, Inc. is founded on the belief that at various times in all our lives, we are both students and teachers. It's paying backwards and forwards by investing in the future of our creative community, now and today. Mentor Street is committed to supporting this - and the next - generation of industry talent. From actors to directors, from composers to writers, we want to help advance artists using all available, emerging technologies.

© 2005 Mentor Street, Inc. All rights reserved

So what have they done? They've launched a contest that is an open call for "America's Next Scream Queen and King" (and guys, if you want in on the action, there seem to be very few male entries so far -- maybe I should submit an application).

People enter with a videotaped intro of where they are from, and then belt out their best horror movie scream. Apparently it has already driven a lot of hits to their site, raising awareness. And how is it also raising money? People vote for their favorites by text-messaging a vote in, and it costs $.99 a vote. Sort of like American Idol, but cool and for a horror film. Scroll through and watch random ones; they're actually rather silly and entertaining (except for the few pompous ones).

Anyway, I think it at least shows a little cleverness, though how much they'll actually raise this way remains to be seen. I did see a blog recently that some guy was using to try to raise funds for a movie, similar to that guy with the million pixel page. But I can't remember what the blog address was. Maybe he's reading. Still, I have a feeling the Scream Contest will do a bit better.

It's fun. And if you want to help out, drop a vote for Linda -- she's #93 on page 12.

Thanks, and have fun!

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Getting your Money's Worth

A little while back, I posted about the various free screenings available here in LA.

Well just this morning (or maybe last night, I forget) I got an invite from one of the email lists I put myself on to go see a free screening of Firewall on Thursday. And truth be told, I have no desire to go. To a free screening. What's up with that?

It isn't even that Firewall looks so bad or anything. Do I not think it is worth the money I'd have to pay for it? It must be worth at least that, right?

In general, I have a pretty good idea of whether I will like a movie before I see it. Perhaps not how much I will or won't like something (in other words, I might like something a bit that I thought I'd like a lot, or vice versa). But my ability to interpret previews/marketing campaigns/reviews/etc. is pretty keen, so I usually know what I'm getting myself into.

And I'm pretty certain I won't particularly like Firewall. Maybe it is just that I can already see almost the whole The Net meets Ransom storyline, and where the script will go with it. I don't think it will be offensively bad. Just a bit boring. Plus, I must add that I think it has one of the worst movie posters I've seen in ages, making it look (design-wise) like a film from 1979.

Still, if anyone in LA is absolutely dying to see this film, isn't on the same email list, and feels like swinging by to give me a ride there and back (it's at Mann's Chinese, so at least that's cool), let me know and I'll see if tickets are still available! Then it might at least be worth my time. :-)

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

FFFJ: Push

It's been a little while since I've written one of these FFFJ posts, so I figured it was time for yet another in the continuing saga of "From the Files of Fun Joel!" And by the way, I intend to also highlight some of the poorer scripts I've read as well, hopefully as an instructive tool. But today I want to focus on another of the scripts I've read that I enjoyed.

Push by David Bourla (Director of a number of films in the infamous Thumbation series) was one of the more entertaining comic book style films I've read. I read it for a non-American film financing company, just over a year ago on 2/2/05.

While not every aspect was all that original, some parts of the plotline were a bit muddled, and I felt the driving force of the film was somewhat weak, I still rated the film a STRONG CONSIDER and Bourla a RECOMMEND. The best aspects of this script were it's cohesive and forcefully stated concept (which I've been thinking about a lot lately, and intend to post about soon), its creation of a hip and entertaining world, and the relatively low budget the script would require.

The film was subsequently purchased by Infinity Media, and though IMDB lists the film as "in production," there is no mention of it on Infinity's website. So who knows what the actuality is.

Spoiler Alert! (major plot elements revealed)

My logline:

Rogue special-ops psychic warriors battle government agents as they all chase after a suitcase with $6 million inside.

I probably could have done a slightly better job with that, but you get the point. The idea is that these teens have special psychic powers (what I would have referred to during my D&D-playing youth as "psionics"). The most intriguing one is that which the film is named for (and if you don't want to know what it is, skip the rest of this paragraph). One of the major characters has the ability to "push" thoughts into other characters' minds, making them believe things that aren't factual. For example, she is able to convince one CIA agent that the other killed his brother. In fact, however, he never even had a brother at all! Think of it as the reverse of mind reading, and a little bit stronger than the famous "These aren't the droids you're looking for" scene from Star Wars.

And though the majority of the psychic powers are internal, Bourla has done an above-average (if not excellent) job of externalizing them, using both action, imagery, and dialogue. There was, of course, the issue of the film's relative similarity of concept to the X-Men films, but with a distinct enough concept, younger cast, grittier tone and style, and relatively low budget, I still felt the film had strong commercial potential.

Here's my comments:

Push is a very strong example of a modern superhero or sci-fi comic book type of script. Bourla does an excellent job of creating a world, and then places interesting characters in interesting situations within it. The monetary driving force may seem a bit weak in comparison to the rest of the film, but it really doesn't matter much with everything else going on as distracters. While the plot is tight and the pacing pleasantly rapid, the concept's partial similarity to the X-Men films may work against it. Still, the film's potential to be shot relatively cheaply, along with its style, make this a strong contender worthy of serious consideration, especially if the ancillary outlets for promoting this film are fully maximized.

Bourla's greatest strength in this script is his ability to create a fully realized world. The brief opening voiceover works perfectly well to give the salient background, and is acceptable within the context of the genre. The rogue agents and shady villainous government agency both add a contemporarily popular stamp to the vaguely familiar plot type. The psychic warriors display enough distinct talents to make them interesting as well, and their powers are introduced in rapid yet dramatically pleasing manners.

Furthermore, Push's plot is rather strong. Via rapid pacing, solidly surprising reversals, and some taut -- if too brief -- action sequences, Bourla tells a story that keeps us interested and on the edge of our seats. One significant weakness of the script is that the object of everyone's attention is simply a briefcase full of money. This is a bit too banal a driving force for such an imaginative and forward thinking film. The plot could remain virtually identical with a more imaginative MacGuffin.

One of the strongest points in favor of this script is the relatively low budget this film should require. Effects, though certainly there, are relatively simple. And at the same time, Bourla has found a way to make his "battles of the mind" into externalized, visual struggles. More important to the budgetary consideration is the fact that the film is set in china, where filming can be done relatively cheaply. Ultimately, however, the two greatest concerns about this script are its vague similarity to the X-Men properties, and the fact that it is not modeled on a pre-existing property from another medium (e.g. comic book or video game). Still, should those other media be exploited properly, the film could prove highly successful.

So, anyone know anything about this project? Cast? In production or not? I guess I could email Bourla at the address on the title page of the script, but not sure if that's appropriate or not! ;-) Sound like something you'd want to see?

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Write What You Like?

At my writing group's meeting last night, an interesting discussion sprung up.

One of the people mentioned that he was somewhat frustrated because the movies he tends to write are not the type of films he enjoys going to see. Another person said he does the same thing, but seemed relatively pleased with his process. And I said I pretty much always write the type of movies that I would want to go see in the theater.

Hmmm. Interesting issue, no? Should we be writing films that we would want to see? Are those the ones for which we are best equipped to write well? What are the benefits (and/or drawbacks) to such a decision, and how about the opposite?

It got me thinking a bit, and I don't think I have any definitive answers, or even if there are any such answers. But I'll at least attempt to put my thoughts on the subject out here.

I enjoy most types of films, and there are very few genres that I would purposely avoid watching. I've long railed against the term "chick flick," since I believe, at least on some level, that a good movie is a good movie. Of course, I'm being somewhat self-servingly fatuous with this claim, and I'm aware that so-called "chick flicks" do typically appeal more frequently to women, hence the name. And I have, in fact, never watched either Beaches or Steel Magnolias. So I guess there is some truth there.

But my point is that since I enjoy seeing most types of movies, it would be difficult for me to write a movie that I wouldn't want to see in theater. That being said, although I have written in various genres, and also have ideas in other genres that I'd like to write in the future, I don't think I could write effectively in any genre. Or perhaps more accurately, I wouldn't want to write in any genre. And maybe that's why I don't think I'd be able to do it.

They tell you you should write what you know. To me that means less about the subjects you choose, and more about the styles. While I do watch movies of nearly every genre, certain types are closer to my personality. I am not an uber-serious person, and though I love to watch a good drama, they're not me. My life is fun and unique, interesting (I hope) and odd. Not filled with deep drama. I am an intelligent person, but not an intellectual per se. I also (probably for the worse) suppress many of my emotions. You kind of need those to write good drama. Romance too. I may be able to write romantic elements into films, but I don't know if I'm ready, at the moment, to write a full-on romantic movie, be it comedic or dramatic.

Those aspects are probably significant in why I back-burnered a pet project of mine, that I hope to write eventually -- a period romance set in a cigar factory in Cuba around the turn of the 20th Century. So what do I write? Entertainment. Comedy, horror, action, mystery. Things that I feel comfortable with. Shallow? Perhaps. I don't think so, but I wouldn't be offended by those who might feel that way. I've always bristled when people referred to me as an "artist." I consider myself a craftsman, a writer with skill at putting words in sequence to achieve certain goals. And one of my favorite things in life is to make other people happy. That's my main goal as a screenwriter.

So getting back to writing what you enjoy. Yes, I go see movies of most genres. But there are certain types that I like more, and those are the ones I write. They are the types that strike a stronger chord in me. So what about my two friends from the group last night? They each write genres other than their favorites, but one was pleased and one was not. Why?

Well, I won't presume to know their specific reasons, and this is not meant to be a diagnosis of their specific cases. But I will address a few potential scenarios. You'll notice I mentioned earlier saving a project for a later date, not feeling I was yet ready to write it. I don't think my skill level is where it would need to be to do the project justice. Sometimes, if someone loves a specific genre enough, they might feel that anything they do in the genre will not be of a high enough caliber.

There is a distinction here, however. One is avoiding a specific project, another avoiding a whole style. The only way to ever get my writing to the level at which I'll be able to write that film is if I specifically try to develop the skills I'll need. I have to work at getting better at elements that will be needed in that project: dramatic romance, genuine dialogue that is true to its specific time and place, and a realistic and subtle delivery of theme and subtext, among others. But I still write in genres that I do enjoy, and probably even enjoy more. But avoiding a whole genre that you actually enjoy (and I'm referring to the generic "you," not specifically my writing group guy), and instead writing something that is less enjoyable to you smacks a bit more of fear. It will be harder to develop the skills you need to do your favorites justice in this way. A better, I believe, approach is to work at a film in your chosen genre, and develop your skills by either rewriting the poor first attempt or moving on to a second or third film in the same genre.

But what of writing outside your favorite genre, but being happy with that? In part this can come from enjoying many different types of movies, as I do. It can also be helped by the craftsman rather than artist philosophy. Alternately, it may mean that a writer has been able to find aspects of those genres (or more likely of those specific stories) that do, in fact, ring true with his soul. Ultimately, however, while satisfying, a writer of this type might find even more satisfaction if he wrote in a genre closer to his heart.

I know this post rambled a bit, and it may not have even come to any conclusions to the quandary with which it started. But in brief, I think we all need to write movies that we would like to watch, even if not our absolute favorites. Why? Because they are who we are, and thus what we know.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Q & A: Who Wears Short Shorts?

Anyone else remember that old Nair commercial from the '70s, or am I dating myself again? (And yes, I know it was a song back in the '50s, before the commercial.)

Anyway, this recent question had nothing to do with hair removal or the Royal Teens. But Leif wrote to ask me about writing short films:

I was just wondering if you could write some articles about short films and their scripts if you have any knowledge of them at all. I've recently decided to try writing a short film script with the ultimate aim of making it myself and would love to hear your thought on them and how they might provide a stepping stone towards becoming a screen writer.
The truth is, I don't have a lot of experience with shorts. And I told Leif that. But I think his response also leads into some of the topics I'd like to discuss here.

Likewise I don't know much about short films either, so I'm kind of just treating it like a film, thats short! Basically starting off with something that's smaller and more manageable then a full feature, while at the same time still giving a good opportunity to tell a story and do some writing.
Interesting. Okay, let me start with a brief account of what my shorts-related history is. When I was in grad school I did two shorts, but unfortunately never finished either of them. I shot both on 16mm, and actually cut them on flatbeds (both Moviolas and Steenbecks), not Avids or another non-linear system. Old School all the way.

Why didn't I finish them? Well, like the fool I am (or at least was), I started the second before the first was completely done, and then I ran out of money. At this point, I could conceivably finish the first one sometime, since it was 100% edited. All it needs is a sound mix, negative cut, and print. The second one, however, will likely never be finished. Though I had edited about 50%, I had only finished shooting 90%, and I suspect I will never shoot the rest. So be it. But that's okay. I liked the first one better anyway, though I had grown as a filmmaker by the second. The first was simply more my style, and I was exploring other things in the second to see if I'd like them.

Beyond that, however, I did work on a number of other short films, both for classmates, and other people around the NYC production community. And I watched plenty, either in class, or on TV. Be aware that channels like IFC show short films regularly, and if you're thinking of making one, you'd do well to watch many.

My most important piece of advice would be this:

Great short films are not just shorter versions of feature films.

Think about it for a second. In most shorts, you can barely get a set-up and resolution in there, let alone a full three-act structure. Forget about serious character development. There's just not enough time. This likely is the reason that such a high percentage of short films are comedic. Humor is something that takes a split second. Drama and pathos take time to develop.

By the way, there really are two different types of short films. There are the 5-15 minute ones (shorter than 5 minutes might actually be a micro-film), and there are those that approach the 45-60 minute range. I am speaking primarily of the former in this post. The latter is a different beast that may, in fact, be something of a short feature, but they serve a different purpose. If they are docs, they might find an outlet on TV. Otherwise, there are really very few venues for them, and I wouldn't suggest (in my limited knowledge) making them. If you're trying to make a "calling card" film, my feeling is that few people will watch a 45 minute film. They want a feature, or a true short. Maybe William or Andy can say differently, but that's my impression.

Okay, so getting back to things. If short films aren't just shorter version of features, what are they? They are typically self-contained, and rely heavily on a joke-like structure (even if they aren't comedic in tone). Set-up and punchline. Ever notice how a short story is different from a novel? Same thing here. Plenty of short films are more open-ended than the typical feature, but to my personal taste, they are not very pleasing. Mind you, that's just my tastes. I have distinct memories of some excellent short films I've seen, and typically they provided some entertaining and moderately perplexing images or actions, then eventually resolved the confusion with a humorous and/or thought-provoking climax.

All that being said, should someone who wants to write feature scripts write a short (if they want), despite the differences? I would say, unequivocally, yes. There are definite benefits. Firstly, writing anything is beneficial, and seeing the process of how the written word translates to the screen, in practical terms, is invaluable. Furthermore, it will give you the opportunity to become a produced writer, as opposed to just a writer. Certainly, if you want to be a writer-director, then making a short is absolutely essential. But even if not, there are plenty of people who are looking for good short scripts to produce, and it will always be nice to have something produced to show people.

It will, of course, be something of a crapshoot when you write a short for others to produce. Particularly in the short film world, many of the filmmakers are less experienced, so you never know what they will do with your work. But should it fall on the positive side of the crapshoot, you could gain some nice exposure that you wouldn't have already had. I've tossed around the idea of writing some more shorts myself, and may at some point.

But let's talk about the short film as a "calling card." For writer-directors, they can work well. I'd love to hear if anyone knows otherwise, but I'm not familiar with too many straight writers (as opposed to hyphenates) who have been able to parlay a short film into a pro writing gig. I assume it has happened, but I can't think of any. I'm sure there are plenty examples of the other type, but the first three "calling card" shorts that come to my mind are Some Folks Call it a Sling Blade (turned into Sling Blade), Peluca (which became Napoleon Dynamite), and the virally-spread The Spirit of Christmas (which famously grew into South Park). All writer-directors. There was also 405 a few years back, and that was used as a calling card for visual effects people. I believe it has helped them on that front.

Perhaps shorts aren't popular as calling cards for writers because the business still looks down on us. Directors and visual effects people create visuals, so they need to show what they can do. We "just" write words. So they can just read our stuff to see if they should hire us. Once it is committed to film, in many producers' minds, whatever is up there is divorced from its written source, and has moved into the realm of the producer. That whole possessory credit issue, y'know? Still, maybe I'm wrong, and it can be used as such. I hope so!

Ultimately, however, I think it is definitely worth writing shorts. If for no other reason than the final point Leif made in his question: it is "a good opportunity to tell a story and do some writing."

(How do you like that? A long post on shorts.)

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